Does my dog have separation anxiety?

I’ve had several conversations recently with people who thought their dog had separation anxiety. In some of these cases, I think the dog really did have separation anxiety! In other cases, I think the dog and owner certainly needed some training help, but I believe the owner had “misdiagnosed” the dog.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the common signs of separation anxiety, as well as some other typical behavior issues that sometimes get confused with separation anxiety.

Dogs with separation anxiety get distressed when they are left alone. For example, a dog may be anxious all day while his owners are at work. In some cases, the dog is attached to a single person. If that person is not there, the dog is anxious. In other cases, the dog is comfortable just as long as some person is around.

Some dogs with separation anxiety may be “Velcro-dogs,” and may be unable to even be in another room by themselves. I had a foster dog for awhile who was an extreme Velcro dog. At the beginning, when I would take a shower, he would sit on the other side of the shower and cry because he wanted to be right next to me the whole time!

Common behaviors that a dog with separation anxiety may exhibit:

  • Barks, whines, cries, and/or howls
  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Refuses to eat food and treats
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Chews on and destroys things
  • Self-harm behaviors, such as chewing on paws
  • Multiple accidents
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Trys to escape from a crate

Dogs with separation anxiety may also exhibit “frantic” behaviors such as racing around the house, whining and crying, and jumping on people when the dog’s owner is getting ready to leave or when the owner arrives home.

Most dogs with separation anxiety almost always ydisplay multiple behaviors from this list. Dogs with more mild separation anxiety may exhibit these sorts of behaviors off and on for the length of time that the dog is left alone, whereas dogs with more severe separation anxiety may exhibit distressed behaviors continuously while their owner is gone.

If your dog exhibits just one or two of these behaviors, it may be hard to tell if your dog has separation anxiety or if something else is going on. If you’re unsure about whether your dog has separation anxiety, you should start by figuring out exactly what your dog does when you are gone.

What does your dog do when left alone?

Do you suspect that your dog might have separation anxiety?

I suggest that you start by setting up a webcam, laptop or tablet and recording what your dog does when you are away.

Try doing this when you go away for a short period of time, such as going to check the mail or going to get something out of your car. However, you should also do this for a longer period of time, such as during the day while you are at work.

You may be surprised by what you discover!

(Note: If you already know that your dog exhibits extreme behaviors when left alone, please do not try this activity.)

Behavior issues that may be confused with separation anxiety

Here are three common training challenges that are sometimes confused with separation anxiety.

Potty training. You may think that your dog has separation anxiety because he has accidents when you leave. However, it may also be that your dog is not fully potty trained.

Your dog may understand that he shouldn’t potty in the house when you are home, but he may not have completely learned that this rule applies all the time. This can often be the case with young dogs or newly-adopted dogs who are given access to a large area of the house when left alone.

Have you taken video yet of what your dog does when left alone? Is he running frantically around the living room and periodically squatting to have an accident? Or, does he snooze on the couch, get up casually, and wander over to the corner of the room to have an accident?

General reactivity. Perhaps your neighbors have complained that your dog barks and cries all day. You begin to suspect that your dog may have separation anxiety.

With a dog who barks, howls, and whines frequently, it’s helpful to figure out if your dog is barking at something or if he is barking because he is distressed and he wants you to come back.

When you video your dog home alone, you may be surprised to discover that he’s barking at people, dogs, and birds that he can see out the window. He’s also barking when a fire truck goes rolling down the street, at the construction noise that’s happening across from your apartment, and any other little sound that he hears.

You may be able to help your dog relax by shutting the curtains or by playing music or turning on the TV to drown out background noise. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to work with a professional trainer to help your dog learn to stay calm and cool even when he hears or sees exciting things.

Dogs will be dogs. You leave your young puppy home alone for an hour while you go to the grocery store. When you get back, he’s tipped over the garbage can and scattered the trash everywhere, chewed on the side of the couch, and ripped several magazine to tiny shreds.

Does your dog have separation anxiety?

Probably not.

But, you should start by videoing him while you are away. Does he display several of the other behaviors in the list above, or is he just taking advantage of all of the fun “toys” that you left out for him?

It’s not fair to expect your dog to be perfect when you leave him home alone with access to your whole house and nothing to do. If he’s bored, he’s going to look for ways to entertain himself!

You can help set your dog up for success by confining him to a smaller portion of the house, such as the kitchen, a bathroom, or a doggie exercise pen. Look around and remove any fun items that your dog may be tempted to chew on or destroy. As well, you can leave chew toys, puzzle toys, and other fun activities to keep your dog busy.

Does your dog have separation anxiety?

You may still have questions about whether your dog has separation anxiety, or not. Even if your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety, you may still need some training lessons to help him learn how to behave the way you want him to behave.

Remember, if you need help training your dog, you can contact Mary to schedule in-person lessons in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex or Zoom lessons for dogs all over the world!

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